The Oscar Pistorius trial is being heralded as the “trial of the century” by many media outlets reporting on the romance and drama involved in the killing of the beautiful Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013. The Oscar Pistorius trial has been compared to many other high profile murder trials, including the Jodi Arias trial and the O.J. Simpson trial. Many people are referring to the trial as a travesty, a shameful representation of the justice system trying to take down a hero and an Olympic athlete. Others are calling the actions of Oscar Pistorius on the night of Valentine’s Day 2013 the actions of a violent, narcissistic man who is guilty of premeditated murder. But there is only one opinion that matters in all of this mess, and that is the opinion of the judge presiding over the Oscar Pistorius trial. That would be Judge Thokozile Masipa, who has called a 30 day recess in the trial so that the defendant can submit to psychiatric testing. The Mirror UK reports on June 24 that the Oscar Pistorius trial will resume this Monday June 30, and the Honorable Judge Masipa will have to make some decisions based on that evaluation. Many people are wondering, what is going through Judge Masipa’s mind right now?
But at the heart of this trial, what is going through Judge Masipa’s mind may not matter. What does matter in this case is whether or not this was premeditated murder, and what was going through Oscar’s mind the moment he pulled the trigger 4 times into a closed and locked bathroom door on the night of Valentine’s Day 2013. Judge Masipa is hoping to have some answers to that question, after sending Oscar Pistorius to the Weskoppies Mental Health Hospital according to the Mirror UK.
The findings from that examination will begin to be revealed this June 30 when Oscar Pistorius returns to the high courts in Pretoria, South Africa. Judge Thokozile Masipa will use this information as evidence to determine whether or not Oscar Pistorius premeditated this killing. Oscar Pistorius has three more full days of testing with a round of four psychiatric physicians who will determine, as closely as possible, what in fact was going through his mind in those moments when the trigger was pulled, and pulled again, and pulled again, and finally, pulled again.
The National Post has reported that there will be a few potential outcomes from Oscar’s visit to the mental clinic. One will be that he was mentally incapable of understanding what he was doing. If this is the decision from the evaluation, the trial will be over. Another outcome is diminished responsibility.
In this case, trial will resume, but this information will be taken into account under a guilty verdict. The last is that the psychiatric experts will determine that he was thinking as clearly as one can in those moments, and the anxiety disorder defense submitted by Oscar will be rebutted, and the trial will go on.
Either one of these scenarios causes a great deal of anxiety for the family members of the victim who are waiting for justice for Reeva Steenkamp. It also causes anxiety to the court of public opinion, with half of them wanting Oscar to get off, and the other half wanting to see him pay for what he did. But all of these opinions in this “trial of the century” almost do not matter. What matters is only one opinion, and that will be the opinion of Judge Masipa who will determine Oscar’s fate.
Many people believe that she will judge in Oscar’s favor. That she is a judge that is besotted with the heroism of this Olympic athlete who has a long history of defying the odds, and rising above the greatest challenges. But is this really the case?
A look at the history of Judge Masipa shows her to be a very discerning judge, who does not give priority to people accused of a crime just because of their status in society.
According to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, Judge Thokozile Masipa has only been a judge since 1999. She was the second black woman judge appointed in South Africa, and many people feel this means she lacks experience. But she most certainly does not.
The first thing people should know about this judge is that Judge Masipa has been looking at crime for many years, since 1966. A Johannesburg, South Africa born woman, she attended the Immaculata High School in Alexandra before obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Social Work by 1974 according to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.
According to Times Live, she was a crime reporter for many years, writing and reporting on crimes for “The World”, “The Post” and “The Sowetan News” before finally deciding to “try” it herself when she obtained her Bachelor of Laws from the University of South Africa in 1990. She also edited the women’s supplement of “Pace Magazine”.
This highlights a second point of interest for the public wondering who Judge Masipa is. With her work at “Pace Magazine”, Judge Masipa frequently wrote and edited about women’s rights, women’s issues, and violence against women in South Africa according to a paper written by the Human Sciences Research Council in 2000 titled, “Women Marching Into the 21st Century: Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo.”
Judge Masipa then practiced law from the years of 1991 to 1998 when she was appointed as the second black woman judge in the Transvaal Provincial Division, where she has been exercising her discerning will and judgement ever since. The third point of interest about the Honorable Judge Thokozile Masipa then is that not only has she exercised discerning judgement, but she has been an advocate for women.
It is this work for women that may make all of the difference in the Oscar Pistorius trial. Her work in this regard as one of the 7 women judges in South Africa was even featured in a 2008 film called “Courting Justice” according to the Times Live. But is that all that there is to know about Judge Masipa? One important way to determine what a Judge may or may not do in a trial is to look at their previous history of judgments.
Judge Masipa has a long history in her short years as a judge on the bench of significantly contributing to case law in South Africa. This is an important fourth point for the public concerned about this case. One significant ruling was a 2009 ruling where she changed constitutional matters on the Blue Moonlight Properties case, where she changed the ways housing for the poor was managed in South Africa according to the Mail and Guardian .
Constitutional rights are very important to Judge Masipa, as they are to any judge. In this case, the Mail and Guardian reports that Judge ruled,
“It is clear that the city is trying to distance itself…this indeed is at odds with the Constitution and is tantamount to failure of the city to comply with its Constitutional obligations.”
This ruling is important to note, as it makes Judge Masipa’s position on higher authorities very clear. She does not care how high the power or person is, if they break the law, she will hold them accountable. This is an important fourth point about Judge Masipa the public interested in the Oscar Pistorius trial may be interested to learn.
But this is not the only trailblazing case that Judge Masipa has illustrated this. Two cases where violence against women have recently come before her, prior to the Oscar Pistorius trial, and both of the defendants are now behind bars. One, who raped several women is now serving a 252 year sentence. In that case, the Mail and Guardian reports that Judge Masipa ruled on the basis of his “lack of remorse” which made it “impossible for him to be rehabilitated.” She said,
“The worst in my view is that he attacked and raped victims in the sanctity of their own homes where they thought they were safe.”
Another defendant, Freddy Mashamba, shot and killed his wife in an intimate partner violence situation that centered around a divorce agreement. According to Zoutnet, in that case, the 32-year-old wife Rudzani Ramango was trying to run away from her husband who was chasing her with a gun. That murder did not happen in the home, but outside of the home as Rudzani ran from her partner, in much the same manner that many people believe Reeva Steenkamp did.
Like Reeva Steenkamp, Rudzani Ramango did not escape alive. Her husband, 43-year-old Freddy Mashamba was a police officer at the time, and was cheating on his wife with a woman named Tshifiwa Makhode according to the Mail and Guardian. Judge Masipa did not take this lightly, and her ruling is an important fifth point for those worried that Judge Masipa will be besotted with an Olympic hero when she makes her decision in the Oscar Pistorius trial.
To Freddy Mashamba, when she handed down his life sentence she said,
“No one is above the law. You deserve to go to jail for life because you are not a protector. You are a killer.”
Will Judge Masipa keep this frame of mind when it comes to determining the fate of Oscar Pistorius? The Mail and Guardian in a separate report indicates that those familiar with her case history find her to be “eloquent and considered, and that her rulings were respected among her peers.”
The Oscar Pistorius trial for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp will resume on Monday June 30, when the public will begin to find out.
What do you think? Is Judge Masipa’s frame of mind clouded by the heroic past of Oscar Pistorius? Or do you think she will come down hard on him, as she has with violent offenders in the past? Do you think that Oscar is a violent offender in the ranks of these two previous criminals? Or do you think it was really an accident?